During the 1990 National Conference on Preaching in Atlanta, well over half the attendees indicated they are currently using a personal computer (or PC) in their churches.
While most computers entered the church for use in handling administrative duties — maintaining membership records, handling financial data, and so on — preachers are rapidly discovering the remarkable tool the personal computer can be in the task of sermon preparation.
In a day when our grade school children are learning to handle computers with ease, there’s no excuse for preachers to miss out on a tool that can increase productivity and strengthen our preaching.
Word Processing
Most preachers who venture into the computer revolution enter through word processing. There’s nothing mystical about word processing; it simply refers to the method of writing using a PC.
What makes writing with a PC superior to the trusty old IBM Selectric (or your favorite #2 pencil)? If you write flawlessly the first time around — with nary an error to be found — then you can probably save your money. But if you’re like most of us, the PC saves enormous amounts of time and energy in writing and polishing any manuscript.
As I write this paragraph, suppose I realize I should have discussed another topic first. With word processing, I can add or delete text quickly, or even move it to another spot in the manuscript. I can quickly check to see how many words I’ve written (or how often I used a particular word). I can pull in text from another document and insert it in my manuscript. And after it’s all done, I can quickly check the spelling — and with one recently purchased program, I can even check my writing style for clarity and effectiveness.
Even ministers who use minimal notes (or none at all) in the pulpit typically find preparation of a manuscript an essential part of the sermon preparation process. For most of us, preparing a manuscript without a PC makes as much sense as doorstop made of Jell-o.
One thing you’ll quickly learn in using your PC for sermon preparation is to save to memory frequently throughout your work. Don’t wait until you’ve reached the end of the manuscript; a power surge (or even a flutter in the lines) will mean you’re done whether you’ve saved or not — because the unsaved text is gone forever! (There’s an evangelistic illustration in there somewhere.) You probably won’t believe me until it happens and you, too, lose two or three hours of work because it wasn’t saved. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.
One other reminder: don’t get completely dependent on your computer, because the day will come when, for one reason or another, you can’t use it. Recently, a Saturday-night thunderstorm cut off power in my neighborhood for hours, and I became reacquainted with paper, pen and candlelight! Frankly, I’ll take the PC any day but you might as well be prepared.
The PC & Scripture Study
Word processing is only one benefit of using the personal computer in sermon preparation. Of increasing value is the variety of study tools now available for the PC — tools that place the equivalent of a library at your fingertips.
As one who loves books — and continues to purchase them long after the available shelf space has disappeared — I’m convinced nothing will replace the pleasure of curling up with a good theological treatise. Nevertheless, as one who also has to prepare weekly sermons in the midst of an increasingly hectic schedule, I’m also happy to take advantage of anything that will help me study the text more effectively and faster!
Being prepared for sermon preparation on the computer will involve some investment in software. The cost range depends on your interest level and budget — you can start at $100 or less and you can also invest several thousand dollars in a multitude of packages. Where a demo disk is available, I’d suggest trying it out before purchasing the entire package; better to invest $10 than $700 to find out if a program will be useful to you.
There are a host of outstanding study tools available to aid in sermon preparation. Here are just a few that have crossed my desk recently:
CD Word Library
This has to be one of the most remarkable Bible-study tools ever developed. It offers instant access to a fabulous array of study resources, including:
– Texts of the Greek New Testament
– Two Greek lexicons — the Bauer Lexicon and the Intermediate Liddell and Scott — plus the One-Volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“little Kittel”), one of the finest resources available for expository study (perhaps one day they’ll have the full ten-volume Kittel in this program)
– English texts, including the King James Version, New International Version, New American Standard Bible, and Revised Standard Version
– Three commentaries: Harper’s Bible Commentary, the Bible Knowledge Commentary, and the Jerome Biblical Commentary
– Two Bible dictionaries: New Bible Dictionary and Harper’s Bible Dictionary.
There are more features than I’ve listed; for example, CD Word Library will even parse every word in the Greek New Testament and Septuagint. Where was this when I was in seminary?
CD Word Library can place all this material in your PC through use of a CD-ROM drive, which attaches to your PC much like a printer. The program is written on a compact disk (which looks like the CD’s you play in your stereo); a CD can hold far more data than a traditional computer disk.
While a CD-ROM drive is not cheap (they’re currently available starting from about $700), much of the best software available in the next several years will be produced in such a format (because of its immense storage capacity). So if your budget permits, make the investment in both a CD-ROM drive and in CD Word Library. If nothing else, put it on your Christmas list!
It’s hard to describe exactly what this program will do. I suggest ordering their demo video tape and see for yourself. For more information, contact: CD Word Library, Inc., 5420 LBJ Freeway, Dallas, TX 75240.
This is an example of a software program that can change the way you do sermon preparation.
If you don’t use the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible in your study, this program will obviously be of far less value to you (since that’s the only English version it contains, as contrasted with CD Word Library). It also has the Greek text of the New Testament, and Zondervan promises a future module to add the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
Since I use the NIV in my study and in the pulpit, I was excited to try this program. It offers a healthy mix of bells and whistles — word searches (in English or Greek), phrase searches, etc. You can give the program a portion of a word and it will search for that word and its variations wherever it occurs.
For example, I asked NIV/PC to search for the word “preach” and any variations (I did so by typing in preach*). It found the word “preach” and its variations (preacher, preaches, preached, preaching) occur 116 times in the New Testament; that includes 33 times in the Gospels and 25 times in the book of Acts alone. Sort of an electronic concordance.
The feature which excites me — and that I plan to make a part of my future sermon preparation — is the “notes” feature. When I am studying a text in preparing to preach, I generally take hand-written notes from my various commentaries and other books. After the sermon is completed, I rarely take the time to compile all those notes into a file I can easily access the next time I plan to preach from that text.
With NIV/PC, as I study a passage in Acts — with both the English and Greek texts of the passage on the screen — instead of typing handwritten notes, I plan to electronically record my notes; NIV/PC will allow me to record the equivalent of up to 15 double-spaced pages on each verse. I can print them out (by themselves or along with the biblical text) as needed. Then my notes remain stored in the hard disk of my PC (and on a floppy disk back-up). Two years from now, when I decide to preach from the same passage in Acts, I have immediate access to all the notes I recorded the first time. That’s a time saver!
If there is a down side to NIV/PC, it is the large amount of space (over 8 megabytes) it requires on your hard disk (that’s to be expected when you have so much English and Greek text recorded). If, like many PC users, you only have a 20 megabyte hard drive, that’s nearly half your total capacity — sufficient reason to purchase no less than a 40 mb hard drive when you buy your system.
This is a program you can use even if you’re a computer beginner (provided your PC has a hard drive). The tutorial walks you through installation and learning the system in a couple of hours. There is a demo available.
For more information, contact: Zondervan Electronic Publishing, 1415 Lake Drive, SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506.
Strong’s Computer Bible
This is a handy tool that will be valuable to ministers who do a good bit of their Bible study on the PC.
SCB is a terminate-and-stay-resident (TSR) program — that means it is loaded into your computer’s memory, and can be called up and put to use even when you are in another program altogether. In this case, it’s made so that you can call it up for reference when you are using a computer Bible program. (SCB is integrated with Bookmaster Bible, a program by the same publisher, but can be used with other Bible text software also.) SCB can also be used apart from a computer Bible; you can simply call it up and check references on a word you are studying.
By using SCB, you can find the Hebrew or Greek roots of the English words used in virtually any Bible translation (KJV, NIV, etc.). The program will give you definitions and other references, then allow you to send this information either to a file (for later reference) or to your printer. If you do much expository study for preaching, you’ll probably find it a handy reference.
As with so many reference tools, Strong’s Computer Bible does require that you have a hard drive in your PC (it will take up 2.4 megabytes). It is fairly simple to use, with a very clear manual/tutorial booklet.
For more information about Strong’s Computer Bible or the Bookmaster Bible (Version 4.4), contact: Koala-T Software, 3255 Wing Street, Suite 220, San Diego, CA 92110.
What Do I Buy If I’m Just Starting?
If the thought of one or more of these software packages has you ready to begin your PC adventure but you don’t have the slightest idea how to get started, here are a few hints:
First, it isn’t necessary for you to purchase the most expensive computer your local dealer offers. While IBM, Compaq and other brands are first rate, many of us make do quite well with one of the “clones” — PC’s that are built to IBM-standards by other vendors (often at significantly lower prices).
That doesn’t mean go out and buy the first “blue-light special” PC you run across. If you’re new to personal computering, you’d be advised to work with a reputable local dealer who can provide initial training and support.
And you’d be smart to purchase a PC that is “AT-compatible” or better (the IBM-AT used a 286-type microchip; though IBM doesn’t make AT’s anymore, most clone manufacturers still sell them). Such machines are now available for about $1,000. While the less expensive machines are perfectly adequate for basic word processing, much of the software you’ll want to use over the next several years will require a higher level of performance than the “stripped down” versions offer.
If you’re buying a PC, be sure to include a hard drive/disk (of at least 20 megabytes) along with at least one floppy drive (the drive reads your software disks). Many of the best software programs won’t work without a hard drive.
Your best bet in purchasing hardware is to decide what kinds of software you’ll want to run on it, then look for a PC that will accommodate it. Don’t be afraid to visit several computer dealers — ask questions and request demonstrations. Make sure you get a chance to sit at the keyboard and “give it a spin” yourself.
The church cannot escape the computer era — nor should we want to try! Computers are like pencil, paper and books — they are tools to help us work more effectively.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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